Let’s Talk About Feet

Have you ever wondered how some birds manage to sleep perched in trees? Wouldn’t you think that they would fall off their branches once their bodies relaxed into sleep?

3-19-2019 aWell, the answer is in the feet. Half of all the types of birds in the world are in a category called passerine. One of the defining features of passerine birds is the way the feet are shaped and function. Passerine (perching) birds have four toes on each foot. Three of the toes face forward. One toe faces backward. When a bird lands on a tree branch, its toes wrap around the branch and then lock into place. This automatic locking of the toes is a very good thing: passerine birds can relax and sleep without worrying their feet will stop gripping their perch.

You can tell a lot about a bird by what kind of feet it has. As another example, if you see a bird with webbed feet, you can bet it is a swimmer. Webbed feet are terrific for swimming because the large surface area of the foot is perfect for pushing water around.3-19-2019 b

4 Comments »

  1. Hi, Bernice. Great information on passerine birds. I personally admire duck’s webbed feet. Great in the water as you say.

    Just between parks at the moment, so have to go. One question— why don’t birds rotate on the branches when they fall asleep? I would think we would see birds hanging upside down.

    Love,

    Dad

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  2. Dear Bernice,

    Thank you for writing these blog posts; we love them!!! This post was really interesting – and had our Mommy Googling about your Daddy’s question, too. Here is what we found out: it turns out some Passerine birds DO end up flipping over in their sleep. Here is the full text of what we found (from a website called PerkyPet.com):

    “Perching birds, called Passerines, sleep while perched. Over time, passerines have developed a form of flexor tendons in their legs that involuntarily clasp shut when a bird is squatting on a perch. The tendons will stay in this position until the bird straightens its leg and it physically won’t be able to leave until it’s ready and willing. The grip is so tight that some birds have even been seen sleeping upside down. That certainly sounds like a deep sleep to us!”

    Us too. So cool! It’s also interesting to know that nests aren’t for sleeping, like we thought!

    We like how some birds swim like ducks. Have you ever seen a duck or swan where you live, Bernice? What about your Daddy?

    Love,
    E and A

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  3. E and A – thanks to you and your mommy for the interesting facts about how passerines sleep. Believe that bats sleep upside down. Are they passerines? I love seeing ducks and swans. Yes, we have lots of ducks in Washington. When I am out looking for leaves down by the Jefferson Memorial, I often see ducks in the water there. Have seen swans too but am struggling to remember where at the moment. NuNu does a great job with the illustrations, don/t you think – I can almost imagine what it must be like to have webbed feet like a duck. Hard for a giraffe to imagine sitting in a tree (would have to be a very large and strong tree!).
    Spring weather here in Washington this weekend and the cherry blossoms are out. So we are meeting Bernice and Louisa and Hector in a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms along with all of the tourists visiting right now. Bernice bought me some special sunglasses so I can travel around and not be identified (I haven’t told Bernice that I don’t think it will work because, after all, I am a giraffe, so I tend to stand out in the crowd, right? But it was awfully nice to have Bernice get the special glasses made for me).
    Dad to Bernice

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